Welcome to episode 3 of Easy Politics 😊 This one is on Socialism; if you haven’t checked out my other two already (on Liberalism and Conservatism) then please do so, and follow so you can see when a new episode is added.
What is socialism?
The core values of socialism are the following:
- Equality (equal rights, equality of opportunity, equality of outcome, absolute equality and equality of welfare)
- Social justice (dislikes that capitalism does not reward people equally depending on their worth e.g. Footballers earn more than doctors)
- Collectivism (people prefer to achieve goals collectively rather than independently; actions taken by organised groups are more likely to be effective than individuals working alone)
- Common ownership (private property is unnatural and a result of the pursuit of self interest; common ownership would alleviate most/all of the evils of modern society).
Socialism proposes that humans are naturally sociable, prefer to achieve goals collectively rather than individually and are content to cooperate with others to serve the common good. It also asserts that people are of equal worth and should therefore have equal rights and equal opportunities. Extreme examples of socialism argue for total economic and social equality and common ownership of all means of production, whereas more moderate forms accept less than full equality in lieu of various ideas of social justice and partial common ownership of property. Modern socialists have accepted a variety of compromises between the pursuit of individual goals and the collective provision of welfare.
When did socialism originate?
There are many examples of small scale experiments in socialism in Europe’s history, but the English Levellers mounted one of the first attempts at organised socialism during the civil war of the 1640s. They set up a self governing community, working land together and sharing out its produce equally.
Are there different types of socialism?
Yes. The main strands of socialism are democratic socialism (evolutionary) and Marxism (revolutionary). Democratic socialists believe that socialism should be achieved by gradual, subtle changes; capitalism should be adjusted, not abolished. Marxists, on the other hand, believe that socialism should be achieved through a revolution of the working classes, abolishing capitalism so that society can be rebuilt from scratch without classes, private property or capitalism.
Social democracy is based around the idea of fair distribution of wealth in society, which is achieved by social justice. Social democracy is centrist, which means that it takes the social policies from the left wing and combines it with the capitalist policies of the right. Thus, social democracy recognises that capitalism isn’t going away anytime soon, and so aims to humanise and reform it.
View on community and cooperation: There should be some collective enterprises e.g. nationalisation of selected industries, welfare state etc. Capitalism should be allowed to continue as a method of creating wealth, but controlled by the state to prevent the system being abused. The profits made should be used to promote social justice.
View on equality: There could be relative social equality through the redistribution of wealth e.g. welfare state and progressive taxation. Their goal is the eradication of poverty as this is central to needs satisfaction. Relative social equality is where everybody is equal (wealth, opportunity etc) in relation to the rest of the population.
View on class politics: Class is about the income and status differences between the upper and lower classes. The division can be narrowed by social and economic intervention.
View on common ownership: Originally, most Social Democrats believed that the state has a role through which wealth could be collectively owned and the economy could be rationally planned, but not all Social Democrats now believe this. Modern Social Democrats tend to be more interested in social justice than the ‘politics of ownership’.
View on capitalism: Capitalism is the only reliable means of generating wealth; socialism includes capitalism. Capitalism is currently a morally defective and ineffective way of distributing wealth, causing structural inequality and poverty, but this could be rectified by the state. Social Democrats recognise that humans are motivated by economic as well as moral incentives, thus capitalism should be tamed rather than abolished.
Marxists believe that absolute social equality can be achieved by the abolition of private property and capitalism in general. In its place would be collectivisation (the government seizes all land and everything produced, and then redistributes it equally).
View on community and cooperation: Collectivism should be championed through abolishing (getting rid of) capitalism. They ultimately believe in Stalinist collectivisation (i.e seizing all private property at once, so that there is state/public/common ownership). They believe this would end the class struggle and solve the issue of over production, as people would have only what they needed.
View on equality: “To each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” There should be absolute social equality by the abolition of private property and collectivisation.
View on class politics: Class is the deepest and most significant social division; it is an irreconcilable conflict. Class is linked to economic power through each class’s relationship to the means of production i.e. the upper classes own the produce, the lower classes make it. Workers should be allowed to keep the products of their labour, be creative and fulfilled in their work. Marxists believe that there will be a class war/revolution where the Bourgeoisie (upper classes) will be overthrown and a classless society will result. Marx and Engels envisaged a proletarian revolution (the class-conscious masses would rise up and overthrow capitalism), whereas Blanqui proposed that there would instead be a small group of dedicated conspirators who would plan and carry out the revolutionary seizure of power.
View on capitalism: Capitalism is a system of class oppression, based on class conflict and exploitation: capitalist profit comes from the exploitation of the surplus value of workers. Marx claimed it would bring “stagnation, immigration and unemployment”.
View on common ownership: Private property will be abolished; the state will control and direct economic life, governing in the interests of the people (Lenin and the Bolsheviks). Everything will be nationalised e.g. railways. Alternatively, there could be small scale self governing communities (Bakunin and anarchists).
What do socialists aim to achieve?
- Humans are social creatures; we overcome social and economic problems by community
- Human nature is fixed at birth; we are all born equal; what we become is dependent on our experiences (nurture not nature)
- Individuals are inseparable from society (interestingly, Margaret Thatcher had this belief too)
- Humans have great potential to become something if society allows it – this is a utopian idea.
- Humans are naturally cooperative, not competitive (competition encourages people to deny their human nature and therefore become selfish and aggressive). Cooperation reflects the belief that humans are motivated to moral and economic incentives.
- The state should promote collective interests e.g. the welfare state, nationalisation, taxation etc.
- Inequality is the result of an unequal society. We are not born equally able but most inequalities are produced by society, not nature. Justice demands that people are treated equally; legal equality is not enough because it ignores structural inequalities in a capitalist society. Equality of opportunity legitimises inequality.
- Social equality underpins community and cooperation: if people live in equal circumstances, they are more likely to identify with eachother and work for common benefit, therefore equality strengthens social solidarity while inequality leads to conflict and instability. Equality of opportunity leads to survival of the fittest.
- “Needs satisfaction” is the basis of human fulfilment and self realisation. Need = necessity, so basic needs such as food, water and shelter are necessary. People have similar needs, so this makes distributing wealth pretty easy.
4. Class politics
- Socialists believe that humans tend to think and act together with others sharing the same economic position/interest.
- Socialism can be achieved by the working classes rising up against the upper classes (often called the Bourgeoisie).
- Social class is not permanent; their aim is to create classless societies or societies where class inequalities are substantially reduced.
5. Common ownership
- Competition and inequality are the result of private property. Private property is unjust as wealth is produced by collective effort, not individuals; it encourages materialism and is morally corrupting (rich want more, poor long to acquire it); and it is divisive, creating conflict between owners and workers, employers and employees, and rich and poor.
- Private property should be abolished or the right to it balanced against the interests of the community.
Is there a Social Democrat Party in the UK?
There is still a Social Democrat party, but as of 2016 it only has a few elected councillors and no parliamentarians. It was originally formed in 1981 by a group of Labour MPs who disagreed with the official Labour party’s policies at the time. This party merged with the Liberal party in 1988 to form the Liberal Democrats but some others formed a breakaway group immediately after with the same name. That party dissolved itself in 1990, but some activists met and voted to continue the party in defiance of its National Executive, leading to the creation of a new Social Democratic Party. If you identify as a Social Democrat, your best bet would be voting for either Labour or the Liberal Democrats, depending on whose policies you agree with more. Just make sure you vote on the 8th June, whoever it is for!
Thank you all for reading! Come back this time next week to read my next post 🙂 please like, share and follow if you enjoyed this.